Agenda of the International Commons Conference

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October 27, 2010

Conference Wiki


Sunday, October 31 

Arrival international and national guests

2 pm – 5 pm Commons alive: project visits in Berlin 

with: Elisabeth Voß, Lena Kunze and Arfasse Gamada

The meetings will allow for on-the-ground insights into different commons-based projects in Berlin. They vary greatly in the types of resources they manage, their institutional structures and legal rules. They connect to the market economy in different ways, and are driven by different concepts of solidarity. But all of them are thriving, functional commons.  

  • Project 1: A womens housing and working project: Genossinnenschaft Schokofabrik eG
  • Project 2: AKB – Community based nursing as ambulant care
  • Project 3: NKL Karlshof – Non-commercial agriculture

Monday, November 1 

8.30 – 9.30 am  Registration

9.30 – 9.45 am Welcome

  • Barbara Unmüßig, President, Heinrich Böll Foundation 
  • David Bollier, Commons Strategies Group (CSG)  

9.45 – 10 am Conference Design 

  • Silke Helfrich & David Bollier

10 am – 12 pm An Overview of the Commons as a Transformation-Paradigm
Keynotes & Debate

  • Ruth Meinzen-Dick, President, International Association for the Study of the Commons, USA
  • Michel Bauwens, Peer2Peer Foundation, Belgium/Thailand 
  • Moderation: Silke Helfrich

12 – 2 pm Lunch, networking & CommonoPolis

Commonopolis is an open space – close to the place we 'll have lunch and dinner - where each participant can present its work, projects and publications, and can share ideas, broaden networks and continue conversation. Pinboards, tables and some online-facilities will be available.

Stream I
Hosts: Silke Helfrich, Beatriz Busaniche

2 – 3 pm The Commons as a challenge for classical economic patterns & thinking and a new narrative of the 21 century 

The Commons offers a powerful critique to classical economic thinking and a public discourse that enshrine the market as the only serious system for meeting human needs. Its critique is not just intellectual, but practical: There has always been a cornucopcia of natural, cultural and social common pool resources and there is a cornucopcia of self-organised Commons – as ancient as community irrigation and as contemporary as the Internet. They are demonstrating that people can successfully manage shared resources over the long term for the benefit of all. As a new (or newly discovered) paradigm of governance, the Commons has the potential to address multiple crises – economic, environmental, social, civic – while confronting the larger „growthist“ paradigm.

There are many questions and uncertainties about actualising the Commons as a new narrative, however. It´s relationship to the market and the state need to be re-imagined. And if the commons is going to supplant the market in certain respects, people must be open for developing new means for reproducing their livelihoods. Therefore, they need appropriate policy support and physical infrastructure. Unlike the market order, which is build upon strict separations between production and reproduction, individual and collective interests or the social and the ecological, the Commons seeks to bridge these divisions and bring them into closer alignment. But that will be impossible unless we first invent a coherent new narrative and policy framework that can be readily understood. 

The question is: Can the commons be a new, promising narrative for the 21st Century?  

Keynotes & Debate

  • Alberto Acosta, Economist, FLACSO, Ex-President of the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador: Yasuní-ITT Initiative, an opportunity to rethink the world 
  • Philippe Aigrain, La Quadrature du Net – Sopinspace, France: New economical foundations for the commons 

    Can we imagine an economy that would be compatible with the commons? What support infrastructure would the commons need?  What policy mechanisms and resource pooling are necessary to maintain the commons?

3 – 4 pm Speed project presentation of exciting commons projects
Moderation: Beatriz Busaniche

  • Project 1: Open Hardware: Arduino, Massimo Banzi, Italy 
  • Project 2: Commons – Spaces of the Poor: FES, Jagdeesh Rao, India
  • Project 3: Housing Commons: Mietshäusersyndikat, Axel Burkhardt, Germany 
  • Project 4: Traditional Knowledge Commons: Natural Justice, Gino Cocchiaro, Australia/South Africa 
  • Project 5: Reputation Based Exchange Commons: Digital Trust Platform, John Clippinger, The Law Lab, Harvard University, USA 
  • Project 6: Digital Cultural Commons: José Murilo, Ministry of Culture, Brazil 
  • Project 7: Urban Commons: Transition Town Movement, Gerd Wessling, Germany 
  • Project 8: Credit Commons: Thomas Greco, USA 

4 – 4.15 pm Coffee Break

4.15 – 5.30 pm World-Café (3 x 25 minutes)

Which are the fundamentals & key principles of a generative commons paradigm? What do those fundamentals need to unfold their potential? How to make sure, that people take from the commons and reproduce commons without harming somebody else's commons? What do we need from the legal and societal sphere to support a shift towards the commons?

Self-organized discussion groups according to the World-Café dynamics

5.30 – 6 pm Rhythm is a commons, A join-in concert
with Johannes Heimrath, Lara Mallien and Massimo de Angelis

6 - 7.30 pm Dinner, Networking & CommonoPolis

7.30 – 10 pm Public Event: The Commons as the Template of Our Future
In a world dominated by predatory markets and unresponsive governments, the commons is emerging as an attractive alternative form of governance, resource management and social equity. It can be seen in free software, countless digital commons, indigenous people's social charters, community managed water, alternative currencies, Transition Towns, and countless other examples.  In this public event, a distinguished panel of leaders in the commons movement addresses the larger political and economic implications of the commons, as well as the new cultural ethic that is emerging worldwide.  Special attention will be paid to the challenges that must be overcome in developing a "commons sector" and the future of the movement.


  • María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Minister of National Patrimony (MNP), Ecuador 
  • Silke Helfrich, Commons Strategies Group (CSG), Germany


  • Richard Pithouse, Rhodes University, poor people’s movement activist, South Africa 
  • Barbara Unmüßig, President, Heinrich Böll Foundation

Moderation:  Christiane Grefe, Die ZEIT, Germany

Tuesday, November 2 

9 – 9.15 am Wrap-up and Conference Design
Silke Helfrich & Beatriz Busaniche

Parallel Sessions Stream II & III

Stream II Hosts: Michel Bauwens & Heike Löschmann

9.15 – 10.30 am The Commons challenges the market/state duopoly
The history of industrial society is one of subsumption of civil society under the dominance of both the market and the state, with a regular pendulum swing between periods of stronger regulatory states (the welfare state paradigm of social democracy and the New Deal, as well as the soviet and fascist state forms), and period of 'market-dominated' states (the corporate welfare state of neoliberalism). However, both the market and state are suffering from a strong systemic crisis, particularly since the meltdown of 2008, it seems that civil networks are undergoing somewhat of a resurgence, under the guise of trends such as the emergence of peer production, the resurgence of the commons paradigm, and a return to sharing practices and infrastructures. Stream II will evaluate the significance of this trend for the autonomy of civil movements itself, for the market and the state, and for the local and global governance issues generated by this new triarchical situation.

Keynote and discussion

  • James Bernard Quilligan, Chairman of the Secretariat, Global Commons Trust, USA

    Global citizens, social charters, and multilateralism 2.0: what are the conditions for the emerging global commons? 

10.30 – 10.45 am Workshops: methods & content, presentation of self-organized workshops
workshop selection by participants

10.45 – 11 am Coffee Break

11 – 12.30 pm Consolidation workshops

Workshop II/1: Recovering the Autonomy and Primacy of Commoners 
A flourishing commons sector requires a new set of rights and institutions. In this session we examine the emergence of new social charters, open licenses, access rights, the general demand for openness and transparency as well as the need for equality in the new opportunities being created, the aim is to identify the set of (design) principles which allow for a commons-based making of rules, guidelines, laws and institutions.

Kickoff speakers:

  • Denis Jaromil Rocio, free software programmer and media artist, Italy/Netherlands: Technical conditions for free infrastructures 
  • Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians, Canada: Elements for a Social Charter for Water Commons 

Workshop II/2: Multilaterism 2.0: The Commons and the State, towards a global partner state
Since it is unlikely that the State will wither away, and yet the commoners are inventing new modes of governance and autonomy for themselves, what should be the proper interrelationship of the Commons and the State? What differential principles and design mechanisms might apply at different levels of governance, but specifically, at the global level?

Kickoff speakers: 

  • Benjamin Coriat, Paris Nord University, France
  • Ana Valadéz, Otros Mundos, Mexico 

Workshop II/3: The Commons as a Trust for Protecting the Earth: The polycentric governance approach
Professor Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues have shown the effectiveness and versatility of natural resource commons in various contexts. But how might the lessons of that scholarship be combined with popular activism and politics, and build support for commons as a respected policy option for protecting and managing natural resources? What are some of the most promising design paradigms for such commons? What are some of the more intriguing emerging commons for managing natural resources?"

Kickoff speaker: 

  • Frank van Laerhoven, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University,  Netherlands

More workshops can be self-organised.  Proposals to be submitted during the conference.

Stream III  Hosts: David Bollier & Julio Lambing

9.15 – 10.30 am The Generative Logic of the Commons
In the commons there is abundance and freedom for all. This stream will explore three aspects of the “generative logic” of the commons which are essential for their specific sort of creation and conservation of wealth. The value produced in the commons is deeper and comprehends much more than only exchange-value for the market. The prosperity of commons and a commons based policy depends on a basic understanding what sort of value they generate. Appropriate institutions are needed to empower commoners to cultivate the commons. And the commons must also strike a prudent balance between openness and control. 

The keynote speakers will explore these themes, and the workshops will probe more deeply.  Workshop I will look at the profound “crisis of value” that now afflicts market fundamentalism and the importance of commons-based subsistence models. Workshop II will examine how institutional structures can be critical to the success of a commons - yet they may also weaken the social dynamics undergirding the commons. Finally, Workshop III will look at the deep tensions between the open-to-all model and a bounded commons of distinct members and rules.  


  • Roberto Verzola, agricultural activist, Philippines 
  • Stefan Meretz,, Germany

10.30 – 10.45 am Workshop presentation by moderators/kick-offs + workshop selection

10.45 – 11 am Coffee Break

11 am – 12.30 pm Consolidation workshops (Stream III)

Workshop III/1:  Understanding Value in a Commons Economy

The commons is a social and moral economy, which means that the value it generates is at once economic, social, cultural and moral, and rooted in a particular local context. The commons has struggled for so long to escape the myths about the “tragedy of the commons” that a basic truth is overlooked: commons actually generate wealth for people and not only value for the markets.  To understand the proposition of the commons, it is important to ask: How does a commons generate what we need for our lives? How does commons-generated value differ from that generated by markets, and how does it vary from one commons to another? What means can protect commons-based wealth?  This workshop will examine these questions from a “big picture,” macro-economic analysis as well as from the on-the-ground realities of subsistence commons. 

Kickoff speakers : 

  • Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna
  • Adam Arvidsson, University of Milano, Italy 

Workshop III/2: Institutional Structures and the Commons: Advantages and Challenges

Since protecting the integrity of relationships and shared resources is a preeminent challenge for any commons, it is natural to devise institutional, legal and policy structures to help maintain a commons. These structures are arguably essential, as seen in such examples as cooperatives, land trusts or the General Public License for software. For decades, there have been two competing strategies: One part of commons activists mainly concentrate on changing cross-societal institutions and infrastructures by building up own complex administrative institutions. Others focus on changing micro-practices and concentrate on building up networks of small grassroot institutions with slim infrastructures. In many cases, both parties accuse each other of acting in a futile and ineffective way, especially when it comes to the question which strategy is apt to establish a more commons sensitive economy. But is there something that can be learned from the new p2p-movement of the last years? This workshop will explore the design principles of successful commons in general and for specific types of resources. It will also evaluate the strategic effectiveness of different approaches.

Kickoff speakers:

  • Brian Davey, FEASTA, GB 
  • Marc Mascarenhas-Swan, Jas-econ, Bay Area economics cooperative, USA

Workshop III/3: Limits and Boundaries vs. Openness and DIY approach: 
Digital technologies and networks have given rise to two very similar types of commons – the open platform and the bounded commons. While the two share many functions and ethical values, there are also deep tensions between the open-to-all model and a bounded commons of distinct members who impose certain rules, oversight and sanctions. For example, how can safety be assured in open-design automobiles and can the practitioners of DIY synthetic biology be trusted to prevent irreversible biological harms? Some people question Wikileaks’ disclosures "state secrets" as putting lives at risk. Others believe that disclosures about the sacred knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples is culturally disrespectful and destructive. This workshop will examine whether the idea of openness is compatible with the bounded commons – or whether open platforms and commons necessarily serve different goals and values. Can hybrid business models successfully bridge the gap between the two? Is openness vital for maintaining control of our lives and preventing corporate misbehavior?   

Kickoff speakers:

  • Pat Mooney, ETC Group, Canada 
  • Glyn Moody, Open Source, Open Source, Open Genomics, Open Content, USA 

More workshops can be self-organised. Proposals can be submitted during the conference.

12.30 – 2.00 pm Lunch, Networking & CommonoPolis & grouping for innovation workshops

2 pm – 4.00 pm
Elements for a commons based policy platform 

Innovation Workshops (self-organised, bar-camp style)  

Suggested issues

  • Social Charters
  • (Net-) Working  for a commons based policy platform beyond the conference commons oriented multilateralism 2.0/ meta-governance approaches 
  • How to „commonize“ legal frameworks in different areas of concern?
  • communication strategies 
  • others to be sorted out during the conference

(including coffee break) 

4.00 – 5.30 pm Plenary (reciprocal sharing of conference discussions and results)
core ideas + conflicts + challenges for streams I/II/III

5.30 – 5.45 pm Conveying the spirit of the commons

6.00 – 9.30 pm Concluding Session

  • Barbara Unmüßig, President, Heinrich Böll Foundation
  • David Bollier, Commons Strategies Group (CSG)  

Out of the box surprise followed by Dinner, Networking & Farewell


Conference language is English

Simultaneous translation English/Spanish – Spanish/English is provided throughout day one of the conference except for world café sessions (translation has to be self-organized or work in language groups) 

Simultaneous translation English/Spanish – Spanish/English is provided on day two in one of stream II or III only depending on majority decision and in one of the workshops, additional translation has to be self-organized 

Simultaneous translation English/German – German/English is provided only during the public evening event on November 1, 7.30 pm – 10 pm.